Among the many sometimes contradictory signs that the economy is/may be/is not recovering from the financial crisis of the past few years is this report from the Huffington Post whose headline states "Small Businesses are Having an Easier Time Getting Loans, Fed Survey Finds"
According to this article, which reports on a recent Federal Reserve survey of bank lending practices, "Banks have eased lending standards for small businesses for the first time in nearly four years...Banks had been reporting relaxed credit standards for big corporations. But the new survey marked the first indication that credit was beginning to ease for smaller companies."
While this is certainly welcome news, such a headline seems to be grasping at whatever snippets of good news there is out there in the finance sector...certainly an understandable impulse. But while credit conditions may be easing somewhat for some small and medium sized businesses, are they easy? That is, have conditions returned to a normal level where smaller businesses can access the credit they need to support and expand their businesses as their customers increase orders?
I have had conversations with suppliers on the Ariba Network and with business owners around the country who indicate to me that, for the most part, they are not seeing liquidity sources open up and are still struggling to achieve the cash flow levels they need to support their business growth. Indeed, a blog that I follow (TRE Observer, by Charles Lightener, treobserver.blogspot.com) recently commented on the same situation while giving anecdotes that seem to contradict the contention that credit conditions are much better. Specifically, he was commenting on the fact that so many suppliers are seeing their receivables being paid late, or their terms extended by their customers, but the result of that is the need for credit/liquidity to cover that cash flow gap...and suppliers he spoke with were having a very difficult time finding it in traditional markets.
But while traditional credit sources (i.e. banks) may or may not be making things easy on small and medium sized businesses, there are new sources of liquidity that have emerged in the crisis and are becoming more mainstream.
One of which is Ariba Receivables Financing (powered by The Receivables Exchange), a tool available to suppliers on he Ariba Network to offer their approved receivables up for sale to the best bidder on a scure, online auction where they can receive funds in as little as 2-3 days (Click this link to learn more about this: http://www.ariba.com/programs/tre/).
Another tool is Ariba Discount Pro which gives Buyers and Suppliers the ability to collaborate over early payment of approved invoices. Using this tool, Buyers can use their excess cash to inject liquidity into their supply chain by paying suppliers early at an agreed upon discount, resulting in lowered supply chain risk and greater return on idle cash reserves. (http://www.ariba.com/solutions/workingcapital.cfm)
Bottom line, there are very good ways for suppliers/SMBs to access the liquidity and cash flow they need to support and grow their business as the economy recovers, but they aren't necessarily to be found in the traditional sources of credit. While there is someeasing of credit from some banks, the Huffington Post article quotes Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics as saying "Credit conditions are still incredibly tight..."
Easier for small and medium sized businesses to access bank credit? Maybe. But EASY? No.
How about for you? If you are a small or medium sized business, I am very interested in hearing your story around accessing credit and cash flow. If you would be willing to share your experience, please comment below.